I did not know that Zahle, the capital of Beqaa, is the largest Christian-majority city in the Near East. I always assumed Beqaa was overwhelmingly Muslim and didn’t realize that that region contained a significant Christian population as well.
Getting back to the question, the present-day country of Lebanon would not exist without the significant cluster of Christians centered around Mount Lebanon. The Maronite church’s unique relationship with France (dating back to the Crusades) gave them leverage during the French Mandate to successfully splinter off a Christian-majority state off of Greater Syria. This is a stark contrast to the Alawites, Turks and Druze, whose autonomous regions were merged with the larger regions of Damascus and Aleppo to form present-day Syria.
Church historians have played a pivotal role in developing a sense of nationalism fusing Lebanon’s Arabic identity with its Phoenician, Mardite and Maronite past. Mouannes Hojairi writes quite critically about this historiography in “Writing the History of Mount Lebanon: Church Historians and Maronite Identity.” Personally, I fell his work veers into anti-Christian sentiments, but he is spot-on on highlighting the key role the church played in forming, nurturing and preserving Lebanese nationalism in one of the key ethno-religious groups in the country.
Daniel, I was surprised to learn that Lebanon had such a rich Christian history. I’ll admit to almost complete ignorance about the different Christian groups in the Near East, but the course was very informative. Lebanon’s Christian history is a topic I plan to learn more about. Your point about the Maronites and the French was spot on. The close relationship that the two parties enjoyed was interesting to learn. The relationship definitely was an advantage when creating Lebanon and also created a Western-like environment helping to establish the modern hospital and university- the same university Charles Malik worked in.